Tom’s Top Five
Tom DeVito knew he had big shoes to fill when he was promoted to be the new senior director of advocacy at Transportation Alternatives, taking over for longtime deputy director Caroline Samponaro. He would be taking charge of TransAlt’s full file of ongoing advocacy campaigns — which includes over 30 campaigns just for neighborhood bike lanes, along with all the city and state laws, policies, and big ideas TransAlt wants for New York City’s future.
But Tom was well prepared. For the past five years, he had managed TransAlt’s team of eight on-staff organizers through a thicket of campaigns from Queens Boulevard to Fifth Avenue.
Handily, in his first month in the new role, he got to cross one campaign off the list. In April, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that after nearly 40 years of demands from TransAlt activists, Central Park would now be completely car-free.
“The story of a car-free Central Park is more than inspiration, it is proof of the power of unrelenting advocacy,” explains DeVito. “Without question, it is one of TransAlt’s greatest campaigns of all time.”
After he helped chase the last car out of Central Park this summer, Reclaim sat down with Tom DeVito to find out what other campaigns from TransAlt’s history inspire his leadership today. He narrowed a long list down to his all-time top five TransAlt campaigns.
Hudson River Greenway
“TransAlt’s always said that bicyclists are the indicator species of the health of a street or a city. When I look at the near-constant, in-any-weather crowds biking and walking on the West Side of Manhattan, I see a healthy transportation corridor. TransAlt fought for the creation of a segregated continuous greenway along the Hudson River, and for $75 million in funding to complete the project in 2001. Today we’re still a steward for people walking and biking on the Greenway.”
Public Bike Share
“Confession: I don’t ride a bike in New York City a whole lot. But when I do, I use bike share because it’s such an accessible way to try bicycling. The reason we have bike share here is because my predecessor, Caroline Samponaro, traveled to Paris when their system opened in 2007 to take notes, so she could explain firsthand how easy it would be to replicate in New York City. After a few years of TransAlt advocates pressuring city officials, Citi Bike launched in 2013.”
Protected Bike Lanes
“Now that they’re everywhere, it’s hard to believe, but TransAlt advocates are the reason we have protected bike lanes in the U.S. The idea comes from Copenhagen, where it was called a cycle-track and known to save lives, which inspired TransAlt to bring it to New York in 2005. We petitioned the city to install its first protected bike lane on 9th Avenue, and we’ve been seeking new protected lanes ever since. I like how a fresh lane immediately fills with novice cyclists. As we like to say around the office: If you build it, they will come.”
Dedicated Bus Lanes
“Bus lanes are perhaps the greatest exemplification of TransAlt’s mission, because they transform a street that prioritizes the few into a public transit system that prioritizes the many. In 2002, advocates brought the idea of a Bogota-style Bus Rapid Transit system to the DOT and MTA. It took a few years of pushing, but New York’s first Select Bus Service line launched in 2008 in the Bronx, speeding bus travel times by 11 percent and increasing ridership 30 percent in the first year. Now, there are camera-enforced bus lanes in all five boroughs, putting public transit riders before people in cars. Our PeopleWay idea, a car-free busway premiering on 14th Street during the L train shutdown, will push bus lanes to an even more efficient future.”
Speed Enforcement Cameras
“More than remarkable technology, the threat of a ticket from a speed camera is a powerful deterrent that has saved countless lives. In 2013, TransAlt and Families for Safe Streets fought to bring speed cameras to New York City, and speeding dropped 63 percent at camera sites. Those cameras were turned off by a Republican-led Senate this summer, and we fought like hell to get them turned back on. I want this campaign on the list because it’s a reminder of how dedicated we must be to save lives.”